A few years ago I attended the first of Brighton’s traditional March of the Mermaid events. I walked in the drizzle from Hove Lawns to Brighton Pier with a crowd of people in fancy dress. At the traffic lights near the aquariums, an Italian woman asked me what the festival was and I told her. She asked me what it was for and I couldn’t say.
I do know that the event was based upon the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, an event held in New York to celebrate the start of the summer. That tradition only began in 1983 meaning it is only a little over thirty years old.
There are a number of recent traditions in Brighton. Pride has expanded from a small march in 1973 to one of the biggest events in the town. In 1993, the community group Same Sky created the Burning of the Clocks as a winter solstice celebration, intended to have “a secular format that can be enjoyed by all regardless of faith or creed”. The event survived funding cuts and even cancellation due to bad weather in 2009.
Other traditions have had a few years of success and then faltered. White Night had ongoing problems with funding. Hanover Day had problems with the cost of insurance. The Brighton Christmas Day Swim is being suppressed due to safety concerns. In 2015, the Kemptown Carnival is taking a year off to “ fully explore a more sustainable model for the Kemp Town Carnival”. And, controversially, the Brighton Zombie Walk was shot in the head due to health and safety concerns because it was too successful and involved too many people.
Traditions come and go. Many of the folk events that claim centuries of history are Victorian inventions and reinventions. It doesn’t matter if these events last two years to two hundred, they still chart out the year and structure the seasons. Even if they soon falter, it’s worth creating more of them.